Demand for value and high quality casual dining, takeaway and food-to-go options is increasing and accounts for over a third of consumer spend (38%), a new report by Bord Bia has found, with quick service restaurants (fast food) the fastest growing channel, reflecting a growing consumer need for value, convenience and customisation.

The foodservice market has grown from €6.07 billion in 2013 to €6.13 billion this year, with growth forecasts to almost €6.5 billion by end 2017, according to the report by Bord Bia.

The report indicates the fact that fast food continues to dominate Irish foodservice channels and that diners’ expectations include health, entertainment and unique offerings when eating out, although price is still a key consideration.

Rising consumer expectations around home delivery, mobile technology and snack-sized meals are also driving changes in this channel. A focus on ‘snackable’ menu items and small plates is emerging, along with the need for alternative, portable food-to offerings and these product trends should be monitored by suppliers as a source of innovation ideas for concept development work, according to the report.

Over 200 Irish agri-food suppliers and foodservice trade buyers gathered for Bord Bia’s seminar to hear speakers from Topaz, Pallas Foods and Compass Ireland and UK.

Speaking at the seminar, Bord Bia’s foodservice specialist, Maureen Gahan said the sector has continued to experience moderate improvements in 2014, with a positive outlook expected over the next few years. “Growth in consumer spending is predicted to be up 1.9% on a compound annual growth basis through to 2017.”

Commenting on the main consumer trends affecting food establishments, Ms Gahan stated “Social media has had a significant impact in terms of directing consumers to new outlets and engaging them in special promotions and events.

Food ‘theatre’ is of growing importance and places new demands on chefs to display their culinary skills through front-of-house exhibition cooking. Health will continue to be a key driver with consumers increasingly seeking out smaller portions of food and healthy alternatives when eating out.”

Optimistic indicators for the future of the foodservice market’s performance lie in the rise in disposable income, increasing consumer confidence and greater tourist numbers, the report goes on to say.

It mentions that agreement by the Government to retain the 9% VAT rate for hospitality in this year’s budget will provide stability into 2015. With recent announcements by the likes of Subway, Caffé Nero and JD Wetherspoons to expand their operations in the Irish market, opportunities also exist for Irish food and drink suppliers that have the capacity to service these chains, Bord Bia says.